CA­REER RE­FLEC­TIONS

Ken Keat­ing, who turned 80 last year, looks back on his suc­cess­ful 65 years in the truck­ing in­dus­try. Ta­mara Whitsed writes

Owner Driver - - Owner/Driver -

KEN KEAT­ING loves work­ing with his chil­dren and grand­chil­dren at Keat­ing Freight Lines, Shep­par­ton. The com­pany spe­cialises in Vic­to­rian freight, and Ken has never re­gret­ted his de­ci­sion to turn his back on in­ter­state runs.

The 80-year-old has been truck­ing since he was 15. He be­gan his ca­reer at Bendigo, Vic­to­ria, spe­cial­is­ing in fur­ni­ture re­moval in the early 1950s. In those early years he drove for sev­eral Bendigo trans­port op­er­a­tors in­clud­ing his brother Ray Keat­ing.

Ken owned a WC22 White for a while, carted live­stock for Fitz­patricks of Charl­ton, and drove for Streets Ice Cream, where he was pro­moted to a man­age­ment role.

His at­ten­tion shifted to in­ter­state trans­port when he es­tab­lished and man­aged Zur­cas Truck­ing in 1967.

His long as­so­ci­a­tion with Ge­of­frey Thomp­son Fruit Pack­ing Com­pany be­gan when he bought its small truck­ing di­vi­sion. Later Ken formed a part­ner­ship with the fruit pack­ing com­pany and in time he be­came a share­holder of the par­ent com­pany. Through­out the 1970s Ken ex­panded the in­ter­state fleet.

But when Ken and his late wife Dorothy founded Ken Keat­ing Freight Lines at Shep­par­ton in 1982, Ken was de­ter­mined his four trucks wouldn’t spend much time out­side Vic­to­ria.

“We just ran Shep­par­ton, Mel­bourne, Al­bury, and dis­trib­uted along North­ern Vic­to­ria,” Ken says.

Look­ing back to the first years of the com­pany, Ken says Keat­ing Freight Lines would not be where it is to­day with­out Dorothy’s in­put.

“To make it work, my wife was in the of­fice and driv­ing a fork­lift, load­ing trucks and ev­ery­thing.” Sadly, Dorothy passed away in 1998.

When their four chil­dren – Stephen, Chris, Mark and Karen – be­gan work­ing at the com­pany, Ken strength­ened his re­solve not to take on in­ter­state work.

“I’d done in­ter­state and I didn’t want the boys to be in­volved in in­ter­state,” he says.

To­day the Shep­par­ton busi­ness has 21 trucks. Six­teen rigid Isuzus are used for lo­cal dis­tri­bu­tion. Ken’s 15 prime movers, in­clud­ing 13 Sca­nias, run as sin­gles and B-dou­bles.

The prime movers take re­frig­er­ated and gen­eral freight to Mel­bourne and Shep­par­ton daily. They also de­liver to Vic­to­rian towns such as Co­bram, Echuca, Kyabram, Mooroopna, Nu­murkah, Tatura, Wan­garatta, Wodonga and Yar­ra­wonga. Ken’s trucks usu­ally only cross into New South Wales to de­liver to bor­der com­mu­ni­ties like Moama and Al­bury. Ken em­ploys more than 30 peo­ple.

“We have prob­a­bly the best group any­where,” he says of his em­ploy­ees.

Many have stayed with the com­pany through to re­tire­ment. “We don’t ad­ver­tise for driv­ers.” Ken has a list of peo­ple who want to work for the com­pany when a po­si­tion be­comes va­cant – driv­ers keen to work for a fam­ily busi­ness which pro­vides mod­ern trucks and doesn’t send them in­ter­state.

Some­times peo­ple ask Ken how he man­ages to at­tract and keep driv­ers.

“Look af­ter them and pay them right and you won’t have any trou­ble,” he says.

Ken has clocked up 65 years in the

“My wife was in the of­fice and driv­ing a fork­lift, load­ing trucks and ev­ery­thing”

in­dus­try and con­tin­ued work­ing af­ter most of his con­tem­po­raries re­tired.

Through un­til his late 70s he started each work­day at 5.30am, load­ing trucks and do­ing lo­cal de­liv­er­ies. Even now, ap­proach­ing his 81st birth­day, he still works in the of­fice part-time.

DECADES OF SCA­NIAS

Ken be­gan buy­ing Sca­nias in 1972. He has bought 95 of them since then.

“They’re get­ting pretty pop­u­lar now. They’re ev­ery­where,” says Ken, who test-drove Sca­nias for sev­eral years.

He says trucks have come a long way since the 1950s.

“Firstly, you haven’t got the loud noise that af­fects your ears. [The

Sca­nias] all main­tain up­hill speed.” And most of the Sca­nias in his fleet are au­to­matic.

Ken re­places his Sca­nias af­ter about three-and-a-half years and Sca­nia takes care of the re­pairs un­der a main­te­nance pro­gram. Ken be­lieves this is the best way to en­sure his fleet is safe and com­pli­ant.

Sca­nia per­forms Keat­ing Freight Lines’ driver train­ing too. New and ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers en­joy the chal­lenge of im­prov­ing their scores on the Sca­nia driver sup­port print­outs.

Ken, who mar­ried his sec­ond wife Mau­reen in 2009, takes a keen in­ter­est in his re­ceiv­ing de­pot at Camp­bell­field, in Mel­bourne’s North, and the seven ware­houses which have been built on his 30 acres at Lem­nos, near Shep­par­ton.

All three of his sons work for Keat­ing Freight Lines. Chris is gen­eral man­ager, Stephen is op­er­a­tions man­ager, and Mark re­cently stepped into Ken’s role – which in­cludes driv­ing and over­see­ing the lo­cal driv­ers.

Sev­eral of Ken’s grand­chil­dren work there too. Ash­ley is em­ployed full-time. Ross be­gan his me­chanic ap­pren­tice­ship at Keat­ings but is fin­ish­ing it at Taig’s, where his grand­fa­ther’s trucks are ser­viced. Matthew and Wil­liam work at Keat­ing Freight Lines part-time when they are not study­ing.

Ken is proud of his mod­ern fleet, but he has kept a few older trucks for sen­ti­men­tal rea­sons.

His son Mark spent two years restor­ing a 1966 In­ter­na­tional R200 which Ken bought 34 years ago. In the 1980s, Ken used the R200 for lo­cal de­liv­er­ies. He loaned it to a friend for a while, and it sat at Keat­ing’s Shep­par­ton yard for sev­eral years be­fore Mark stripped it back to the chas­sis.

Mark fin­ished the restora­tion just in time for Ken’s 80th birth­day last July.

HALL OF FAME

Last Au­gust, Ken trav­elled to Alice Springs where he was in­ducted to the Na­tional Road Trans­port Hall of Fame. He shared the hon­our with his father Wil­liam, who was in­ducted posthu­mously.

Wil­liam be­gan cart­ing fur­ni­ture with a horse and cart in 1915 and bought the fam­ily’s first truck – a new Chevro­let – in 1927.

Four Keat­ings have now been in­ducted to the Hall of Fame.

Ken’s older brother, the late Ray Keat­ing, was in­ducted in 2008 af­ter spend­ing 58 years in the in­dus­try. For much of this time, Ray was based at Swan Hill.

His younger brother, Brian Keat­ing, was in­ducted in 2010. Brian be­gan his own busi­ness in 1970 with a Dodge truck and now op­er­ates Keat­ing’s Trans­port from Bendigo with his wife and chil­dren.

With two gen­er­a­tions of Keat­ings work­ing at Keat­ing’s Trans­port, and three gen­er­a­tions work­ing at Keat­ing Freight Lines, we can ex­pect to see the Keat­ing name on trucks and trail­ers for many years to come.

“Look af­ter them and pay them right and you won’t have any trou­ble”

in orig­i­nally spe­cialised The Keat­ing fam­ily Bendigo fur­ni­ture re­moval in

The Keat­ing fam­ily has been in the truck­ing in­dus­try since the 1920s

Ken Keat­ing and his brother with Ken’s In­ter­na­tion Brian Keat­ing Road al R200 at Trans­port the Na­tional Hall of Fame

the Lines’ Sca­nias trucked One of Keat­ing Freight when Ken was to the North­ern Ter­ri­tory In­ter­na­tional R200 of Fame in­ducted to the Hall

Ken drove his Mercedes to the Mel­bourne and Syd­ney mar­kets

Ken and his late wife Dorothy, who worked in the of­fice and op­er­ated fork­lifts to help es­tab­lish Keat­ing Freight Lines

(From left) Mark, Chris and Steve Keat­ing work at Keat­ing Freight Lines with their father Ken

(From left) Wil­liam Keat­ing with his truck­ing sons Ray, Ken and Brian

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